The Binding Chair
by Kathryn Harrison, '82
Random House, 2000; $24.95
Best known for The Kiss, a controversial memoir of her affair with her father, Harrison again explores the forbidden in this sprawling tale of damaged women. At the center are Alice, a headstrong Jewish girl raised in Shanghai, and the amoral May, a Chinese beauty with a nasty past who marries Alice's uncle and becomes a kind of opium-smoking Auntie Mame to the girl. Crippled since childhood by an ancient binding ritual that turned each of her feet into "a warm claw of flesh, luminous and slick and folded in upon itself," May is bitter, secretive, controlling -- and in constant pain. The lushly written and morbidly erotic saga sweeps from Shanghai to Siberia to London and back before coming to rest on the French Riviera, where May and Alice part ways.
The Immortal Game
by Mark Alan Coggins, '79, MS '88
Poltroon Press, 1999; $25
Private detective August Riordan spends much of this noir mystery getting insulted, punched and shot at. Set in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the story revolves around the theft of a computer chess program designed by software zillionaire Edwin Bishop, an eccentric entrepreneur who lives in a Woodside mansion with several paid female "companions." The writing itself is a throwback to the hard-boiled machismo of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. And like their work, it's laced with deadpan humor. "She had hoop earrings trained hamsters could jump through," Coggins writes, describing the receptionist at a North Beach S&M club. Another character, in a moment of surprise, "stared at me like I told him my goldfish played the glockenspiel." The author knows his territory -- literary and geographic. He worked for Silicon Valley start-ups, including Netscape, and lives in San Francisco.
by Elizabeth Richards, '82
Pocket Books, 1999; $22
Richards's second novel (Every Day came out in 1997) focuses on Paige Austin, a 40-year-old New Yorker who has a need to nurture. Unable to have children of her own, Austin pours her energy into the "littles," a group of four preschoolers she takes care of each day. Her life is disrupted when her troubled teenage stepson, Malachi McGowan, arrives after being expelled from his Brooklyn prep school for drug use. Starved for affection, Malachi responds to Paige's parenting at first but eventually rebels, running away and then staging a prank involving the "littles" that nearly leads to tragedy. This is a story of the complexity of family relationships and the journey from anger to love.
Tess Gerritsen, '75
Pocket Books, 1999; $24.95
The Hot Zone meets Apollo 13 in the fourth medical thriller from physician-turned-novelist Gerritsen. Dr. Emma Watson, a NASA mission specialist, is called to the International Space Station to replace a colleague whose wife has just died. In his grief, the astronaut has inadvertently released an elusive, mutating and gruesomely fatal virus into the ship's lab -- and shortly after Emma's arrival, it starts killing off the crew. The one man who can help is Emma's estranged husband, Dr. Jack McCallum, but he's been brooding ever since a kidney stone ruined his chances for space travel. Jack and Emma eventually come together to fight the virus in a twisting tale involving meteorites, leopard frogs, internecine government disputes and a malevolent house cat named Humphrey.